Media narrative shaping, a long list of ex lovers, both pop and country fans (really, liberals and conservatives) to appease and the shifting tides of what rings acceptable for the performance of respectable womanhood: these are the frameworks in which Taylor Swift’s 6th album was constructed. All of these factors — plus the freedom of the kind of success she had achieved heading into her 6th album — made the conditions perfect for falling in love with Swift.
Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of an album that has been on mind and in my ears since it dropped. Here’s a track-by-track breakdown of all the bits to love about ‘reputation.’
“Ready for It”
Call Swift corny for pouring on the edginess thick, but “Ready for It” is the perfect opener. It sets the tone for an album that’s all about shedding expectations and shifting gears.
Killer synths and pulsing trap beats underscore a key tenet of any Swift song, which is romantic fantasy. So, with the flirting comes the imagery of warriors of assassins. Swift also introduces herself, if coyly, as a sexual being. “In the middle of the night, in my dreams / You should see the things we do, baby.” It’s the first sign that ‘reputation’-era Swift is a bit more upfront about her NSFW behavior.
An Ed Sheeran feature on a Taylor Swift song? No big deal. They’re the twin patron saints of Being in Your Feelings on Acoustic Guitar. But Future? On a Taylor Swift song? I could have never seen it coming.
This song is golden because Swift’s voice is the sonic embodiment of La Perla garters and Tom Ford perfume. When she tells you that she wants to be your “end game,” you believe she’s going to pull out all the stops to be on that yacht or private beach popping Moet with you.
One of the greatest conspiracy theories I will forever champion: Future and Taylor Swift have hooked up. That’s not compulsive heterosexuality or chaotic Libra energy leaping out. I’m just observing that Taylor Swift is literally Future’s type. She has the same body type, commercial success and good-girl-with-a-wild-streak aesthetic as Ciara. Stay woke.
“I Did Something Bad”
An icy violin loop melts into the nastiest cinematic turntable-synth crescendo and it’s absolutely menacing. Swift leans into haters’ characterization of her as a devious being, saying she did something bad and admitting it feels good. Category is: Taylor Swift is all out of fucks left to give.
But surprisingly, the “something bad” she’s illustrating about is exercising her autonomy in her relationships and in her career. For all of the trouble, internal and external, she’s faced with taking on the “feminist” label, this song holds up in court.
“Don’t Blame Me”
We got humming, the ruin of older men’s lives, gothic imagery and tambourines. Taylor Swift stepped on both Lana Del Rey’s and Hozier’s neck with this song and just added in some sleepy house music affectations. It’s that simple.
In the same way Swift owns up in “I Did Something Bad,” she’s brutally honest about how grateful she is for a lover that can look past her terrible — wait for it! — reputation. Just as the title suggests, this song is about the gentle descent into vulnerability with someone new.
And my God, it’s classic Swift with more of those saucy undertones. She flicks through scenes of late nights at NYC dive bars and apartments. It’s fluttering lashes, it’s re-reading texts, it’s slowly shedding your clothes at one-night stand. It’s measuring heady desire that might overwhelm a precarious situation(ship). It’s the precipice. It’s delicious potential.
“Look What You Made Me Do”
This song is a throw-away, but it did its job. It made Taylor Swift stans stan harder, it riled up the haters to hate more, and it let the gays and girls looking to stunt at the club or their dance recital get their life.
“So It Goes”
Dreamy and risqué, this song feels like a companion to a The Weeknd track. When she says, “You know I’m not a bad girl, but I / do bad things with you,” she says everything. Add in being “cut into pieces,” being a hostage, a necklace, the heart skipping a beat, the lipstick on the face and oh, the scratches on the back? It’s real BDSM hours, ladies.
When the almost industrial instrumentation comes in — like a clanging machine married to distorted guitars — it feels very much like a Nine Inch Nails song. Could never know for sure, but sounds like Swift can put her money where her mouth is as a femme fatale.
Taylor Swift invented pop storytelling. We get it. By the time you reach this song, it’s like, “Please, queen, give our wigs a break!”
You want to know what’s fake news? “Gorgeous” being about Swift’s current boyfriend, Joe Alwyn, as the liberal media wants us to believe. How is she going to act like this song doesn’t fill in the blanks from that infamous Met Gala / Tom Hiddleston debacle? Girl bye.
Despite this song being ridiculously specific to Swift’s life, “Gorgeous” is the song you jam when you realized how disturbingly fine your crush is.
Jack Antonoff put the Bleachers sauce all over this song, as evidence by the ‘80s vibe. It’s a noir film. It’s big, romantic Sagittarius energy. It’s also not hard to imagine one of the most visible celebrities on God’s green Earth wanting a romance that’s secret and special and private. Textually, the lyrics also mirror her video for “I Knew You Were Trouble.”
“King of My Heart”
If you like pop-infused hip-hop but still can’t get down to this song, you truly just hate Swift and need to own up to your bias. Because the layered trap percussion, the Range Rovers and the red-cup kickback are unequivocally a hip-hop set-up. If I’d heard an instrumental of this track, I would have sooner thought it was Sza or Tinashe than Taylor Swift.
“Dancing With Our Hands Tied”
By and large, this song is my no. 1 on ‘reputation.’ First, Swift is truly giving us a drum + bass song with those clipped beats. It’s something I was only able to pick up on and appreciate because I took a black British music class last year.
Second, the same way minimalism becomes maximalism in “I Did Something Bad,” Swift just starts gushing. It’s the long text you never sent to your ex or at least, the soliloquy version when someone asks you, “What happened with you and… them?” There’s the polite build-up, then the unstoppable flood of emotions. It’s pure electronica framed through your deepest, messiest, most out-of-pocket crush.
“Dancing With Our Hands Tied” is a fabulous example of form following function. The technical aspects of the song match the lyrics to a tee. Swift’s voice stays mostly steady, but the instruments themselves and the melodies give you the anger, the regret, the longing, the resignation in perfect little packages.
Third, it nails a strange, not-oft-spoken-about phenomenon. It’s only in the swell of the last chorus that you hear the scope of Swift’s loss and frustration in her voice. And that’s truly how life is. There could be a hazy moment, an undefined relationship, in your life that won’t really mean much in the grand scheme of your life. And yet, it will leave its mark on you and you’ll turn it over for awhile in mind. Swift captures this elusive phenomenon and asks us to confront it.
And, with the help of Antonoff again, this is the song about these out-of-pocket crushes come to be. In a clean but very heavy-handed way, Swift describes the kind of physical chemistry that’s a one-way ticket to hell: “And if I get burned, at least we were electrified.”
The cadence and alliteration of the bridge sound like a tug of war. It sounds like close calls, and lying to your best friends and yourself.
While there are no explicit words or acts in the song, the hands shaking, the disrobing, the moans, the bedpost and the sly admission of being more than friends all point to a very specific kind of intimacy. Here, we get the too candidly morally depraved version of Swift that all of ‘reputation’ has led up to. This is the climax we’ve been waiting for.
“This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”
It’s all too intense, too adult and too dark. It’s time to loosen up, so we get the campiest song of all-time after “Dress.” Yes, this is the one where she addresses the Kim Kardashian and Kanye West mess. And it’s cringy. But it had to be done and it’s best to write diss tracks with confidence and humor, right?
“Call It What You Want”
The looped strings sound like a pendulum and the beats sounds like a metronome. And it’s all fitting for a song that feels like watching time pass from behind glass. Swift’s back on her bullshit with a wild-hearted fairytale: there’s the treacherous royal court of the music industry, there’s a knight in shining armor and there are forts.
But despite all this whimsy, there’s a dose of harsh reality: real romantic love isn’t a fairytale. It’s a partnership that takes work and patience and solid emotional support. For all the pettiness and illicit loves, Swift turns out to be refreshingly mature.
“New Year’s Day”
For all the jagged edges this album delivers, Swift closes ‘reputation’ with tenderness. It’s all in the title. It’s New Year’s Day, not New Year’s Eve. This song is touched by that quiet fuzz after a hell of a night. It’s also forward-looking. It’s finding beauty in the aftermath. And it always manages to make me cry, because of the second half of the song. There are two pleas that really get me: the repeated lines of “Hold onto the memories, they will hold on to you” and “Please don’t ever become a stranger / Whose laugh I could recognize anywhere.”
Because there are so many strangers’ voices that I could recognize anywhere and there are so many people filling their seat in my life, who I fear could join that number. And haven’t we all, across age, sexuality, race, gender, been there? With a friend or lover?
And that quiet fuzz of New Year’s Day, where you think about all that’s changed in a year, tends to put those losses in perspective. I will always been two minutes into the song and bawling, because she asks us to confront this and I’m never ready!
Like any one of a pop-friendly mind, I had dabbled in Swift standom. A love of High School Musical and Hannah Montana made me ripe for “Teardrops on My Guitar.” Even in the throws of turning to Linkin Park and Green Day as my saviors, the catchiness of “Love Story” was irrefutable. Fast forward to “Eyes Open” and “Everything Has Changed” putting me in my feelings at peak gothdom, and a Pittsburgh date of Swift’s 1989 World Tour. We’ve heard Swift at her twangiest and saw her grow into the poster woman for the kind of Americana that shops at J. Crew, Target and Whole Foods.
What with all the drama, I didn’t know what to expect heading into this album cycle. I do remember Buzzfeed staff writer Elle Woodward breaking the Internet with a scathing enterprise story on Swift’s affinity for and capitalization off of white female victimhood. Woodward had researched, catalogued and said everything on our minds as far as critical responses to a problematic pop queen go. It was the forward-looking end to her piece, which was published 10 months before ‘reputation,’ that comes off so wisely now.
“More recently, she’s aligned herself with members of her squad who, on the surface, appear edgier – Gigi Hadid and Cara Delevingne, for example, both of whom are tattooed, are vocal about their sexuality, and have been associated with drug scandals. Her association with ‘bad boy’ Zayn Malik, as well as Drake and Nelly, over recent months also signals a shift in focus from the white, female members of her friendship group. She dressed as pansexual character Deadpool for Halloween; there’s been a new shaggy hairstyle, more eyeliner, and rumours of a tattoo. Most recently she wrote and released a song for ‘Fifty Shades Darker.’
Swift is clearly rejecting the traditional femininity and victimised posture she’s occupied for so long. She’s all about narratives, and the reinvention of her image is the start of a new one. The question is, however, after being exposed playing the victim in plain sight for over a decade, will anyone believe it?”
A year into jamming ‘reputation’ — during South Campus bus rides, train commutes, flights and roadtrips; homework bang-outs; workday slumps; pre-game pump-ups — I believe Swift. Because even if the callousness or the exploits are a facade, the emotions and the musings about human nature are 100% real. That’s what makes a Taylor Swift song, a Taylor Swift song. From album to album, she’ll switch her vibe or change her mask. But she’s still working under an artist’s version of authenticity.